Iain Duncan Smith outlines his reasoning for backing the Withdrawal Agreement

29th March 2019

Iain Duncan Smith outlines his reasoning for backing the Withdrawal Agreement based on a change in the balance of risks, in particular a damaging and destructive extension that would mean we never leave the European Union.

It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), but he will forgive me if I do not follow him completely, as we would never finish this debate.

I wish to apprise the House of my view of this motion. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General said, it is not the motion we have already voted on; it is a different motion. [Interruption.] I will make no excuses about that—it is a different motion. Opposition Members agreed that, so I do not know how they can laugh.

Today, I will support the Government for the very simple reason that I think nothing huge has changed in the nature of the Bill that is likely to be presented, or even in the withdrawal agreement. What I do think has changed, however, is the balance of risks, and as politicians—not lawyers—we must apprise ourselves of what that balance amounts to and to what degree we owe it to ourselves to make those decisions.

Since we had the two-week extension we now face a choice about what is likely to happen. Some of my colleagues genuinely believe that if we vote down this agreement we will go to 12 April, and we will not get an extension from the EU. I find that difficult to believe. If we consider what the EU has already said—Mrs Merkel and various others—we see that they really want to keep the UK inside the EU. One way or the other, they would rather have us in, even if it is troublesome at this stage. I genuinely believe that by 12 April we will be offered—or it could even be demanded of us—an extension of at least two years that will require us to fight the European elections. I do not know how I can go on to doorsteps, having campaigned to leave the European Union and support 17.4 million people, and tell them not to worry because even if we are not leaving right now, we might leave a little bit later. That is simply inexplicable, and I genuinely do not believe that that is what I campaigned on or for.

Some people have said that an extension does not really matter because we will be able to stay in the EU, make those negotiations and get those changes, and we will be in control because we will have votes and an ability to take that control. All I say is that I voted against the Maastricht treaty 26 years ago, and I have always maintained that we have never had real control. If we have had so much control for 40 years, why are we now trying to get out of a European Union that has extended its power and competence year in, year out?

I hope the hon. Gentleman will forgive me but I want to finish my point. I will give way just once because, as Mr Speaker says, we want to try and keep this short.

I believe that the way to stand up for the 17.4 million is to get to the Bill. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash), whose knowledge of constitutional law I revere, Bill needs to get to the Bill. We will then look to see which of the issues raised by the Attorney General are in the Bill and how they protect us. What can we ensure is in the Bill? We can then make a judgment about whether it represents the way that we believe we should leave the EU, and my hon. Friends need to consider that issue immediately.

On 3 March the right hon. Gentleman stated on his website:

“British Governments have lied about the EU for decades. This deal is the final deceit”.

Yet he is going to vote for it.

My simple point is: absolutely. There has been a trail of deceit on both sides of the House and by different Governments. The judgment I make today is about the balance of risks. I believe that the one saving grace of this process so far is that we will repeal the European Communities Act 1972, and that means we will have left the European Union. That is the single issue I accept because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stone said, we must get to the Bill and figure out how that provision is protected. Is it the default mechanism?

I will not give way because others wish to speak.

Is the Attorney General’s comment correct that this is the right place to be? I want my Government not to be deceitful and to own up about whether the Bill will protect those rights and for my right hon. and hon. Friends to make that judgment when we have seen the Bill.

This is an opportunity for us to get that process going. If we do not, we go to 12 April, and in that case we have only the simple statement that we will extend the date for leaving the EU. An extension is death in terms of our voters—the people who put us here and who wanted us to get this through. I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to look around. Every one of the speeches made, even the interventions, has demanded an extension to 12 April because people know we will get that extension. This is important. We are in a Chamber of people who really do not want to leave the European Union at all.

I know and honour my hon. Friends who have fought and campaigned to get this agreement changed, but we must recognise that we need to take hold of the one element that gets us out of the European Union, leaves us out and shuts down the debate about future referendums. That will allow us to be confident that, under a new leadership, we can go forward to change the nature of this process.

In conclusion, I say to my colleagues that for me this is not an easy decision. There is a lot about the withdrawal agreement that I do not like, and I stand by that position. However, if we do not go forward to consider the Bill, we will rue this day because we will end up having to accept what I believe will be a damaging and destructive extension that means we never leave the European Union. If we say that we stand up for 17.4 million people, we must get those people what they asked for, which is to leave the European Union, and this is now the only way.

Hansard